Published: 09 June 2016
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Rise in farming fatalities raises injury concerns

Many farmers are not covered under the WorkCover system because they are self -employed. Living in a rural area, I often hear from friends or family about the terrible accidents or near misses but don’t often see injured farmers in my professional role as a personal injury lawyer.

Even with farm workers who are covered by WorkCover there is a reluctance to pursue their entitlements perhaps due to a perceived stigma about WorkCover recipients in the agricultural industry.

However, it is an undeniable fact that farming is a high-risk occupation.

Farmers are 3% of workers but 30% of injuries

According to WorkSafe: "Agriculture employs just three per cent of Victorian workers but accounts for almost 30 per cent of workplace fatalities. And these statistics don’t take into account fatalities on hobby farms, lifestyle properties and small landholdings".

Farmers need to recognise this and take precautions in their approach to their work and to consider insurance in case they do suffer injury. Even where insurance under the WorkCover scheme is not available, it is worth investing in income protection, total and permanent disablement or death insurance through a superfund, or through your trusted financial adviser.

Last month the dangerous nature of farming was highlighted when three farmers died within three days. My heart goes out to those farmer’s friends and families who are now going to suffer a lifetime of loss.

On Friday 20 May 2016, a 61-year-old Echuca dairy farmer died when he became entangled under a feed mixer being towed behind his tractor.

Then, on Saturday 21 May 2016 a 56-year-old man died after a farm accident at Marnoo in Victoria’s Wimmera. It is understood that the man became caught under machinery that he was towing with a tractor.

Then to end the horror weekend Prominent Melbourne QC aged 65 died in a quad bike rollover at his Merrijig property.

Farm injuries “under-reported”

Clinical Associate Professor Susan Brumby, director of the National Centre for Farmer Health, warns that injuries on farms are "under-reported".

"The challenge is that farming people often work in isolation, so they're obviously dealing with machinery that's difficult to use - and I guess there's no margin for error when you're dealing with a tractor, or a quad bike that's tipping," she says.

"People don't think it will happen to them, they may be tired, they may be fatigued. If they're working alone and something does go wrong, they may not be able to actually get help quickly, or they may not be in (mobile) coverage to actually be able to ring for help," she says.

But Professor Brumby believes the toll can be reduced, and says that safety innovations over the years have been successful. She also urges farmers not to "build up a bravado" around near-misses. Rather, farmers need to remove the risk that led to the incident.

For more information regarding farm safety

National Centre for Farmer Health: http://www.farmerhealth.org.au

WorkSafe Victoria: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/agriculture

Cameron Houston, Tom Cowie, The Age, May 23, 2016: Barrister killed in quad bike accident fought mandatory roll-over bars for Honda: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/barrister-killed-in-quad-bike-accident-fought-mandatory-rollover-bars-for-honda-20160523-gp1o6d.html

WorkSafe News, Letter to the Editor: Experienced farmers most likely to die: http://www.worksafenews.com.au/news/item/500-letter-to-the-editor-experienced-farmers-most-likely-to-die.html

Darren Gray, The Age, May 16, 2015: Life and death on the farm in northern Victoria (source of Susan Brumby quotes): http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/life-and-death-on-the-farm-in-northern-victoria-20150514-gh26pq.html

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